Beshear calls for pay raises for officers, more funding for public safety in new budget plan

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Written by McKenna Horsley for Kentucky Lantern

Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday called for more money for training, body armor and raises for law enforcement in what he says will be the first of several spending plans he’ll announce over the next month.

Beshear acknowledged that governors typically reveal budget proposals around the time lawmakers return to Frankfort in January, but said he was taking this tack because House Republicans filed an executive branch budget proposal before he unveiled his own in 2022.

Of course, it remains to be seen who will oversee the executive branch when the General Assembly convenes for the 60-day session to decide on appropriations. Beshear, a Democrat, is running for reelection against Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Voters will decide between them in November.

“These are real steps, real actions,” Beshear said after introducing his plan. “It’s one thing to say you back to blue and it’s another to do something about it, to provide the resources, to take the steps that improve public safety.”

In response, Cameron, who released his own 12-point public safety plan last month, issued a statement saying Beshear was “trying to rewrite his record” in an election year. He called Beshear the “catch and release candidate,” referring to a 2021 report about inmates who were released early during the pandemic. The report found a third were later charged with a felony.

“I am still the only candidate in this race with a plan to reduce crime,” Cameron said. “And I am the only candidate in this race who actually has the relationships in the legislature to deliver.”

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Here’s what Beshear is calling for in the next state budget:

  • Changes to law enforcement pensions, which includes moving all law enforcement pension plans back to defined pension benefits as well as increasing pension income for retired KSP troopers and local jurisdictions in those plans.
  • A $2,500 raise for all KRS Chapter 16 employees, which includes troopers, vehicle enforcement officers and more.
  • Raising the current $4,300 training stipend for local law enforcement officers to $4,800, building on a $300 increase in the current budget. Beshear would also like to make part-time local law enforcement officers eligible for the training stipend.
  • Making grant funds available to upgrade body armor for local law enforcement officers.

Cameron’s public safety plan included $5,000 bonuses for all Kentucky law enforcement officers, opposing subpoena powers for civilian review boards that give oversight to police departments, and focused largely on Louisville.

Both Beshear and Cameron highlighted a surplus in the state’s “rainy day fund” in their announcements. Kentucky finished the 2023 fiscal year with a revenue surplus estimated at $1.4 billion, the third year in a row the surplus has topped $1 billion, while bringing in a record $15.1 billion in general fund tax revenue.

The two candidates have also racked up endorsements from various law enforcement officers in the state.

On Wednesday, Beshear was joined by Kentucky State Commissioner Col. Phillip Burnett Jr. and KSP Trooper Billy Ball, who survived an event that Beshear said inspired the proposed body armor grants.

Ball was among officers who responded to what would become a deadly shooting in Floyd County in 2022. Three troopers and a police dog died. Ball recounted how body armor protected him during the incident so he could aid other troopers.

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“I decided to leave cover and move forward to locate the shooter but little did I know I would be the next target,” Ball said. “I was blinded by the evening sun and the shooter fired but missed me. The next shot struck me in the back as I turned to retreat to cover. The round hit my plate carrier which provided such protection, I initially questioned if I’d even been shot.”

Ball encouraged other police officers to wear body armor not just to protect themselves, but make themselves a better officer and allow them to continue to serve.

Burnett, appointed by Beshear in 2021, said that recent pay increases for troopers supported by the governor and the General Assembly have made KSP competitive in recruitment. KSP went from ranking 74th among state agencies for starting pay when Burnett started in 2021 to now being in the top five. The agency has been advertising its starting pay as $65,000.

“We’re really good right now but we have to be looking at how our agency operates,” Burnett said. “We have to be looking out into the future. And by doing these things, we’re looking out into the future to make sure that we always remain competitive.”

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